In early december, CJR’s Ryan Chittum wrote a critique on a “study” making its way around the Web that reported on abuse suffered by female journalists, published by the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute. While a salient topic of discussion, Chittum wrote, the study was less than scientific, merely culling responses online from volunteers. Elisa Lees Munoz, executive director of IWMF, defended the work:

I wish that you had reached out to me for this article (“Credulous press for a report on abuse of female journalists,”, December 6, 2013). I am the executive director of the IWMF. I could have given you a much better understanding of what we are trying to do with the study. While we can’t control headlines, we are well aware that we are not representing a scientific picture of the percentage of women journalists threatened, just the women journalists who responded to the survey. In addition, the survey does require information about where the individual works as well as contact information to enable us to go back to respondents.

The kind of information that we are gathering is critical to the work of the IWMF and that of many other journalism development organizations. We have been gathering stories of women journalists in extreme threat around the world for nearly 25 years. The study helps us to pinpoint the kinds of threats women are facing and thereby create programs to help address and mitigate them. Clearly a comprehensive survey is necessary. Funding for that kind of work is extremely hard to come by. This is a good first step to provide important information about the conditions under which many women journalists are working.

I feel you are condemning the study based on the articles written about it, not the intent of the survey, without having spoken to anyone directly responsible for the study; potentially falling into the same trap as the one you accuse the authors of the articles of falling into. —Elisa Lees Munoz

Chittum responds:

It’s fair to criticize your report without talking to you about it. I contacted the INSI and the consultant behind the report, but neither got back to me. I wanted to know more about the methodology, but there was enough about it in your report to know that the survey was not rigorous.

I read the report as well as the press release and the press coverage above hardly distorted either of them. I criticized the report based on the report itself, and I criticized the coverage of it for failing to do the same.

I hope to see a better study of this critical issue sometime. 


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